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Split Notes to Separate MIDI Drum Sequencing Pro Tools Tutorial

Split Notes to Separate MIDI Drum Sequencing Pro Tools Tutorial

Sequencing drums has always presented a challenge to music producers. While it is easy to create the sequence on a single MIDI track, this doesn't allow you individual control over each elements of the drum mix. An easy way to overcome this challenge is to use Split Notes, which enables you to separate each MIDI note onto its own track giving you control over your drum mix. This article shows you how easy it is to utilize Split Notes in Pro Tools.

While MIDI is one of the most powerful tools in studio production, one of the inherent drawbacks is the difficulty in working with "non-pitched" instruments such as drums. A "non-pitched" instrument is one where every note plays a different sound. In the case of drums, each note triggers sounds such as kick, snare, hi-hat, etc..., unlike a piano which plays the same sound at a lower or higher pitch across the key range. This presents an inherent problem when it comes time to mix: if all the drum sounds are on the same track it is difficult to blend sounds together, eq certain sounds and not others, or apply effects to a singular sound, such a the snare drum, without also applying it to the entire drum mix. It would be much more effective to have each of the different drum sound on their own track, in the same way we would if we recorded a live drum kit being played. Let's take a look at how you can start using Split Notes to separate your drum sequence into multiple tracks.

Using Split Notes in Pro Tools

Split MIDI Notes to Separate MIDI Tracks

The above example is the common way a lot of people start their drum sequence, using a single track to record and edit the part. Every note in the sequence triggers a different sound, such as kick, snare, hi-hat, etc... The challenge comes when changes need to be made to mix levels, inserts, and sends. Since all of the notes are triggering the same synth, any mix changes affect the entire kit at once. It would be easier if each note of the performance was on it's own track allowing you control of each sound independent of the others. This is the exact instance where we would use Split Notes.

Step 1: Select the performance

Select the MIDI Performance in Pro Tools

Step 2: Open Split Notes from the Event Menu

Open Split Notes from Events

Go to the Event Menu > Event Operations > Select/Split Notes:
You can also use the keyboard shortcut Option + Y (mac) / Alt + Y (pc)

Step 3: Select Options

Select Split Note Options

At the top of the Select/Split Notes window you will see options for your Pitch Criteria. This tells Pro Tools which notes across the key range to look at. In our example we will select "All Notes" 

  • All notes - selects across all notes 
  • Notes between - allows you to specify a range of notes to select
  • Top - allows you to select the top notes of a chord
  • Bottom - allows you to select the bottom notes of a chord

Pitch Criteria for MIDI Split Notes

There are more options in the "Other Criteria" section in the middle of the window. These options let you decide if you want to select notes within a certain Velocity setting, a specific Duration, or across a specific place in time. In our example, we will not select any of these options as we want to select across every note in the performance regardless of velocity, duration, or position.

Ho to use Split Notes

Lastly, you have to specify the action performed on the notes and tell it the outcome. You have 2 options available: Select Notes, or Split Notes.

Select Notes: Will only select the notes of the performance without doing anything else. This is not useful in our example as it would not create individual tracks based on the note pitches.

Split Notes: Will not only select the notes, but will also allow you to dictate whether to Cut, or Copy, as well as what action to perform on the notes.

 Specify Action on Split Notes 

Ho to use Split Notes

Options include:

  • the clipboard: this will Cut/Copy the notes allowing you to Paste them onto another track
  • a new track: will paste the selected notes in their entirety to a new track
  • a new track per pitch: will separate each pitch onto it's own track

For our example we will use "Copy" to "a new track per pitch" allowing us to have a new track for every detected pitch of the original sequence, while not affecting the original track.

Ho to use Split Notes

Once the setting are applied you will wind up with something similar to the example below. Each of the pitches in our original performance now lives on its own track in Pro Tools. The original track is still there, untouched since we used "Copy" as our action.

MIDI Notes after Split Notes is Applied

The main thing to keep in mind at this point is that all of these new tracks DO NOT have the drum synth plugin active on them, so will will have to copy the original drum synth plugin to each of the new tracks. You can quickly copy the synth plugin by pressing the Option key (mac) / Alt key (pc), and dragging the drum synth from the original track to each of the newly created tracks. This will ensure the same settings and sounds you were hearing on the original track now live on each of the new tracks, isolating the sounds from each other, allowing you effective control of the mix between them.

MIDI Drum Sequece Mix Window After Split Notes

Now that you have a multi-track drum sequence you can work with it as you would a traditional drum recording, with individual control over each "sound" of the drum kit as it's own track. You can apply an eq, compressor, or effects to the snare without affecting any of the other sounds in the kit.

The tutorial video below show you this process from beginning to end.

Mihai Boloni

Author: Mihai Boloni
Avid Expert Certified Pro Tools Instructor
ProMedia Training, LLC


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Mihai Boloni
Mihai BoloniCreative Director & Avid Expert Pro Tools instructor
Mihai has made it his life's work to help others in the audio industry. Mihai gained experience as an audio engineering Full Sail Instructor in early 2000's and joined ProMedia in 2002. He is now regarded as one of Avid's leading and most experienced, in-demand Instructors and Pro Tools technical consultants for complex studio configurations. Corporate clients include MTV, PBS, NBC, Telemundo, The Voice's Chief Engineer Mike Bernard, Atlanta Public School System, countless professors from leading Universities, CNN, Turner Broadcasting, and the top producers, artists, and engineers in leading studios and record labels. For over 20 years, Mihai has continued to work as an Audio Engineer, Record Producer, Songwriter (ASCAP), Dog Lover, and Expert Level AVID Certified Pro Tools Instructor.

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ProMedia Training is the premier authorized Avid Training Center since 2002, having prepared more students in Pro Tools than any other organization. We teach Pro Tools on all levels as well as offer exam preparation for Pro Tools Certification exams for those studying audio engineering, recording, mixing and related multimedia training for musicians, producers, recording engineers, worship facilities and corporations. ProMedia has been leading the way in short term, Pro Tools Immersion courses which focus in all areas from beginner to advanced Pro Tools Applications.  Our beginners learn the software for music production, recording, editing, audio engineering, and mixing. Our advanced users focus on cutting edge highly complex HDX systems, new concepts as well as workflow improvements. We also provide on-site training for corporations, Universities, Schools, and worship facilities where professionals can advance their skills while learning in their own working environment. ProMedia also participates in many of the musical associations and related organizations related to the recording arts including ASCAP, BMI, NAMM, TAXI A&R, Youth Organizations, NAB, Promo Only, and more.

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